Without seven defenders, Royston couldn’t avenge away day defeat to the Tudors in the corresponding fixture last season as Hemel scored from two corners and a defensive mix up to win 3-1.
In the end it was a comfortable victory and good performance from Hemel Hempstead who won 1-3 against Royston at Garden Walk on a sunny Autumnal afternoon to be in tomorrow’s third round FA Cup draw.
As for Royston, the saying goes one man doesn’t make a team. And neither do two. But when joint manger Chris Watters had to pick a starting eleven — without seven of his defensive players — the Crows faithful might have been fearing the worse; especially when you consider Hemel play their football a step higher up the football pyramid.
At the same time, it would be amiss not to mention as well that Royston’s defence was somewhat depleted here as the Crows were without two of their most influential, dependable and experienced central defensive stalwarts in the heart of the back line, no less, for all or most of this one.
Usual captain Adam Murray — whose teammates are unbeaten when he has featured this season — was missing from the starting line up through illness having picked up COVID during the week, leaving the impressive, unfazed and composed emergency loanee Harvey Beckett from Cambridge United to cover alongside the experienced centre-half who was August’s Player of the Month, Ronnie Henry.
Unfortunately Henry himself also had to retire from the field of play early through injury, having been unable to shake off a knock he picked up in the pre game warm up. Henry was substituted shortly after the Tudors opened the scoring in the fourth minute, which came via a headed goal by Kyle Ajayi who leapt highest at the back post to head in George Williams’ dangerous yet orthodox corner.
The early defensive breach by the visitors so early into the contest would have been just what the Tudors would have wanted. Royston’s reshuffled and patched up back line — which was also without Dequane Wilson-Braithwaite (who had to go to A&E with suspected concussion during the week in Tuesday night’s game against AFC Sudbury) and Ed Asafu-Adjaye who in returning to fitness from injury — did well to cope with Hemel’s attacking threat.
But the newly assembled defence, to be fair, given the circumstances, were equal for much of the first half save for a five minute spell when they dropped their guard momentarily to conceded further two goals.
Hemel scored in quick succession when Montel McKenzie fired in a brace within a five minute period between the 29th and 34th minutes. His first came after he capitalised on a breakdown from a slight mix up when Royston went on the counter attack, while his second came when McKenzie latched onto a another corner ball from Williams to strike the ball past Louis Chadwick.
Goalkeeper Chadwick made a fabulous save to keep the Tudors in sight in the first half, and along with Greg Sandiford, Ange Djadja and emergency loan signing Beckett, the defence did particularly well to marshall Hemel’s potent attack, with some good, timely interceptions, headed clearances as well as offering some progressive forward runs and neat and tidy interplay.
Fans’ Player of the Match, Josh Coldicott-Stevens also gave some much welcome protection from midfield by sitting in front of the back line, but also found time to venture forward to score a spectacular long range effort from c. 20 yards out in first half stoppage time — but it turned out to be a consolation goal.
That said, although that may have been the case, it did ask a questions of the opponents so near to the interval and inflicted a change in tactics and team talk from Hemel Hempstead’s manager at half time. The Tudors altered their formation slightly for the second period.
Royston continued to press at given opportunities during the second half but couldn’t find a second goal and with it a chance to go in search for an equaliser.
The damage had been inflicted early on in this game, before the shored up defence had time to settle; but the Crows make-shift defence, without the experienced Murray:Henry axis, can be proud of the resilience it showed in the face of adversity.
After the game, Royston forward, Florian Tsaguim, told ok.football: “I think in the first half, in my opinion, we gave them too much respect. We tried to [play the ball] a bit longer than we normally do. But second half, we came out with a bit more belief, especially the first five or ten minutes, and started playing.
“I think the boys worked their socks off today — it was a hard one. That shows the difference between Step 3 and Step 2, they just were a bit better. We missed Ron and Muz, two experienced lads, that read the game really well. To be fair to Ange and the new lad Beckett, they were class.
“It was a hard one, it was really, really tough: especially for me as I felt I didn’t get on the ball as I normally do. We’ve got to go back to training ahead of another tough game against Nuneaton [Borough] next week.”
Unfortunately, for this season at least, Chris Watters — who had masterminded a performance that dispatched former employers Cheshunt from the last round of the FA Cup competition — couldn’t go one better here against another one of his former teams.
He took to social media and said: “[I’m] devastated and proud. To go against a side like that with SEVEN defenders unavailable and not give in. Proud. Good luck to Hemel in the next round. Absolutely loved my playing days there!”
Crows Sqwark Performance Rating — 6.5 out of 10